Restoring Trees After a Storm

Not all trees damaged in storms need to be removed. Some can be restored back to health. This topic is complicated, and retaining the services of a certified arborist is recommended. But can a homeowner tell if a damaged tree can be restored?

To be a good candidate for restoration, a tree should not have cracks in its major limbs or trunk. Its roots should not be exposed or lifted out of the soil. In addition, the branches and trunk structure need to have been strong and healthy prior to the storm. This means that the tree does not have multiple trunks, co-dominant stems, bark inclusions (weak unions between major branches and the trunk), or large amounts of decayed wood.

(To find out if your tree has a bark inclusion, visit Dr. Edward Gilman's website, Landscape Plants, and look at normal and bark-included branch unions. Dr. Gilman's site has extensive information on tree care, with plenty of descriptive photos.)

Know that it can be expensive to restore trees damaged in storms.

The following signs should tell you if it is even possible for a hurricane-damaged tree to be restored.

  • The canopy is defoliated or damaged, but there are still lots of branches. Trees that lose their leaves or break small canopy branches in a hurricane are usually not dead. New foliage may appear by the following spring. A tree that is decay-resistant (especially impervious to the spread of fungal organisms following an injury) can lose up to ¾ of its small canopy branches and still recover. Trees flooded with salt water during a storm will also often lose their leaves. These should be irrigated with fresh water to wash salts through the soil if possible soon after the storm.
  • Only small branches are dead or broken. Trees with broken branches less than 4 inches in diameter can easily be pruned and have a good chance of recovering.
  • Some major limbs are broken, but it's a decay-resistant species. Some species of trees are more decay-resistant than others. Health specimens of decay-resistant species can be restored even with some major branch breakage and could recover well after a hurricane. Younger trees with a diameter of less than 10 inches are easier to restore than older, larger trees.
  • A leaning or fallen tree is small. Only trees that were recently planted or have a trunk diameter smaller than 4 inches should be staked or replanted if they have fallen over during a storm.

How to Re-Plant a Small Tree That Has Fallen Over

To stand up a small tree that has fallen over during a hurricane, follow these steps.

  1. Keep roots moist.
  2. Make the hole large enough to fit the tree's roots in.
  3. Cut jagged or torn roots cleanly.
  4. Pull tree upright.
  5. Fill in the hole with the soil you've removed from it.
  6. Water with 3 gallons per inch of trunk diameter, three times per week.
  7. Stake the tree. Adjust stakes regularly and remove them when the tree is stable.

Cleaning the Canopy

To begin the restoration process, follow these steps immediately following the storm.

  1. Remove dead, broken, and hanging branches.
  2. Wait and see how the tree does the following year.
  3. The tree may recover if sprouts appear along branches later in the year or the following spring.

Restoring a Palm

Palms grow differently from other trees. Restoring a storm-damaged palm takes careful work. Hire a certified arborist, or follow these guidelines to get your palm back to optimal health:

  • Remove hanging or dead fronds. These could fall and hit a person or damage property. Dead fronds are entirely yellow or brown in color.
  • Remove fronds that cover the bud. Broken fronds crossing the top of the palm can prevent the growth of new fronds that will restore the canopy.
  • Leave any bent, green fronds (even if they have yellow or brown tips) that are still attached to the tree, so long as they are not covering the bud. These fronds will help the palm store energy until new foliage emerges. Then you can remove the bent fronds.
  • Establish a fertilization program to correct nutrient deficiencies. When palm fronds that are still alive and attached show severe yellowing, it's a sign that the palm may lack nutrients such as potassium or magnesium. Do not remove these yellowed fronds; they are still providing energy for the tree. Instead, establish a regular fertilization regime specific to palms.